13 Feb 2014

First Year vs. Fourth Year

Yes, we fourth years do exist, much to the surprise of "the fresh". The number of times people have gazed at me quizzically when I tell them "no, I'm not a Masters student",  and "no, I didn't fail my third year", is frankly, embarrassing (on their part, I might add). I also feel shockingly old. '91 babies are a rare breed in Exeter, and I'm starting to feel like I'm already on the shelf. My youthful days seem to have flashed by me; I've already passed all the exciting ages like 13, 18, and 21. 30 can only mean the first signs of grey hair, and a considerably slower metabolism. Don't even get me started on 40…that's when the mid-life crises kick in. Yes, I meant to pluralise crisis - it's all about the multiples. Multiple chins, multiple tummy rolls, multiple children….Then I'll have to teach the children how to multiply for their maths homework, which will cause multiple problems, because I still count with my fingers.

Everyone is asking about plans for next year. Family members, friends, your friends' parents, professors, strangers, strange professors….the list goes on. Grad job or travel? You tend to give a different answer each time the question is thrown at you, or find yourself regurgitating the same sketchy response which you know for a fact to be untrue. But it sounds good, so why not? Or maybe you're one of those lucky buggers who did an internship at a bank one summer and got a training contract under your belt. In which case, go away and stop rubbing it in my face. 

People warned me that final year was going to be a step up, but they didn't warn me how much. First and second year studying English and French was nothing short of a doddle. I remember my Dad skyping me mid-afternoon a couple times, and I was still in bed. Peering out from beneath the covers, sporting outrageous bed hair, and still wearing pyjamas, I must have looked quite the show. I was probably watching funny animal videos on youtube, as we students are prone to do. Sadly, bed has become a rare pleasure in fourth year. No more lethargic lie-ins. No more mid afternoon naps, or crawling back into bed after a greasy fry-up breakfast in halls.

I'm the first to admit that the word library seemed alien to me in my first year. I'd often take a few books out before an essay (to trick my brain into thinking I was ahead of the game), only to return them, unopened. Who needs a library when I can get so much on Jstor and Google books? But now, the library has become second nature to me. It's practically my second home, and the breeding ground for all my essays. But the silence in there is painful. A rumbling stomach sounds like an earthquake. Eating a packet of crisps will incur the wrath of people around you. And munching on anything pungent is sure to earn you a few evils. I need not mention the culprits who "bagsy" spots in the library, only to disappear for hours, or sometimes even days at a time, to the anger of other students. If you fit into the latter category, shame on you!

Back in the youthful days of first and second year, I was indifferent to the library; I didn't care much for its existence. But now, I've developed a love-hate relationship with it (leaning more towards the latter). Yes - I'm starting to hate on the library even more than usual. First, the horrendous library fines (although I did manage to sweet talk a librarian into halving my fine the other day, because I thought it was unethical to charge me £5.50 for forgetting to hand back a locker key on time…especially because this was a first-time offence, and I didn't even receive a warning email). Secondly, the library gets outrageously busy. Every hour is a peak hour. Unless you fancy sidling in at 4am. I find myself weaving in and out of bookshelves to try and eye up a free desk, but alas, nothing. Unless you plan on arriving at the crack of dawn, you might as well forget it. I awkwardly walk into rooms to see if there are any seats free. People look me up and down, silently saying, "HAHA, that's what you get for rocking up at 10am, lazy fool!"

On the other hand, the library brings fear, and fear is what I need to bosh out a good essay. In first and second year I would write my essays in bed, propping up a mountain of pillows, and spreading heaps of notes out across my bed. I'd write the essays half dozing, in my jimjams, holding onto a hot water bottle, mug of black coffee in one hand, typing furiously with the other. I'd then run for my life to campus in my oversized hoodie, sans bra on one occasion, to hand in an essay at 3.57pm for a 4pm deadline. It's at times like this that I'm grateful my fitness exceeds that of a slug. I highly doubt I could get mitigation for running out of breath on my way to handing in an essay. Now with the new online 10am submission deadline, no exercise is involved. And no printing, either. I, like many a student I am sure, find printers exceedingly temperamental. Just when I need it to work, it decides to run out of ink. Just when I need it to work, it decides to get a paper jam. It's like the printer can feel the tension mounting up inside of me, and takes the opportune moment to break down and crush my sanity. So off to the print shop I would run…but oh wait, there's a queue…and the computers there take 5 minutes to log on. Splendid. So yes, I am indeed grateful that I can now send off my essays from the comfort of my bed.

One thing that hasn't changed? I still pig out in the final stages of essay writing. We're talking chocolate caramel digestives, crisps, gallons of iced tea….Anything that can take my mind off the task in hand. And usually food does the trick. Yummerz. Although I'm slightly worried my essay-food relationship will become problematic when I'm writing my dissertation. The plan is to graduate with a 2:1, not love handles.

But fourth year far exceeds first year in many ways. I know who my great friends are, I'm going out less (that's good right?), I'm tee-total (not as boring as it sounds), training for the Rock Solid Race (nothing like a good challenge), and applying for grad jobs in PR (I actually know what I want to do with my life, which makes a change from my 18 year old self!) Life has forward momentum - everything I do is leading up to something. First year was fun, but I felt like a small fish swimming around frantically in a big pond. Now, I feel like a big fish, ready to enter an ocean of opportunities.

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